The prevalent nationalism and the religious mentality in Myanmar amid the so-called democratic rule have become apparent in the wake of the Rohingya crisis.
A book written by journalist Francis Wade titled “Myanmar’s Enemy Within” takes us back to the 2012 military crackdown on the ethnic minority in Mynamar's Rakhine state, and talks about how the violence disseminated nationwide.
According to The Economist
, Wade looks at nationalism, the pitfalls of the democratic experiment in Myanmar and how the military’s manipulation of ethnic and religious identities laid the foundation for conflict between the two communities.
Mentionable, Wade's book was published ten days before the recent military offensive against the Rohingya that led to a massive exodus of the ethnic minority who have crossed over to Bangladesh seeking refuge.
Wade, who has reported on Myanmar for around a decade, offers a deeper understanding of the plight of the displaced ethnic minority – rendering the book more topical.
The Economist writes: “His [Wade's] most intriguing passages come when telling the stories of ordinary people caught up in this vicious ethno-nationalism. There is a young Buddhist nationalist who speaks of the necessity to build a 'fence of bones' to defend Buddhism; a young Mon woman who sheds her ethnic identity to become registered as a Bamar—a member of the country’s ethnic majority—in order to get jobs and education available only to Bamars; and a Rohingya man who also gives up his religious and ethnic identity to enter the army, ending up as an enforcer of an apartheid system directed at his own people.”
Such haunting desperations coincide with the numerous accounts of the Rohingya refugees who are now in Cox's Bazar – trying to understand their predicament amid the confused aftermath of a crisis which has uprooted them from their own homes, brought about all kinds of assault and left them hungry, and their loved ones dead. They also help connect the dots as to why the violence against these people have increasingly worsened.
The Economist review adds that the author has exposed the narrative promoted by the Buddhist and Bamar majority – “that Islam, with only a few million adherents in a country of 53 million, has become the new threat to Myanmar.”
It says: “The book explores the tangled roots of Myanmar’s ethno-nationalism: a toxic mix of the burden of colonial rule, the army’s Burmanisation project and hate speech by radical monks, all left unchecked by a weak state and enabling politicians.”
The book sheds light on “the deep-rooted fears of Rakhine Buddhists of losing resources and status to the Rohingya, the collapse of social cohesion in Rakhine and the systematic dehumanisation of the Rohingya, whom most Burmese regard as Bengali immigrants. But the author also finds communities—away from the camps and ghettos—where Buddhists and Muslims had not withdrawn 'into their collective shells' and 'the project of segregation wasn’t viable.'
“It would, Mr Wade writes, “have taken a pogrom of unimaginable intensity to drive Rohingya out of Buthidaung”, a town in northern Rakhine. Sadly, after Wade’s book was written, just such a pogrom came: Buthidaung, like much of the surrounding area, is now all but empty of Muslims.”
According The Economist: “Wade offers a lucid account of what all of this means for Myanmar’s political future. The Burmese nationalist movement—traditionally a domain of the ruling elite—is now mainstream. And it has become the chief threat to the democratic transition, 'for its hostility towards calls for inclusivity played into the hands of regressive forces that had no desire to see the democratic opening come to fruition.'”